Mark Schmeler: New “Participatory” Survey Seeks Input from All Wheelchair Stakeholders

The team behind a new Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects (DRRP) survey is hoping to get input from as many stakeholders as possible in the wheelchair industry.

The survey for the Research on Healthcare Policy and Disability project was introduced last week and is “part of a larger Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project funded to investigate and propose a new policy that better aligns with the needs of people who use wheelchairs as well as those who provide or pay for them,” according to a news announcement.

Stakeholders invited to take the survey include people who use wheelchairs; their caregivers and care partners; clinicians; suppliers; manufacturers; policy makers; and funding sources.

Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP, a project co-investigator with Brad Dicianno, M.D., said the survey would remain available to take for at least two months. “At ISS [International Seating Symposium, scheduled for late January], we’re doing a whole session about this section of the project,” Schmeler told Mobility Management, adding that the ISS session will be a reminder to people who want to participate, but haven’t yet taken the survey.

Schmeler added that the survey is part of “the discovery phase of the project. Carmen [DiGiovine, Ph.D., ATP/SMS, RET] and Rich [Schein, Ph.D., MPH] led the scoping review of the literature to see what’s out there, what’s reported in the science. The second phase is — let’s get people’s opinions. Let’s get a very broad opinion of wheelchair policy, not just in the United States, but what else is going on in other places. Maybe there are some good things that we just don’t know about.”

While the survey doesn’t collect personal identifications, it does ask for participants’ general locations and what segment of the industry they represent. Schmeler added that the team is hoping for a very large sample of participants “so we hopefully have equally distributed sample sizes across all those stakeholder groups. I’d like to see a thousand people complete [the survey] and have 200 consumers, 200 suppliers, 200 clinicians, that kind of thing.”

Researchers are also hoping for input about wheelchair policies in other countries: “If we get 200 people from Sweden to fill [the survey] out, [we can] look at it and say, ‘Why are they not as unhappy as, say, the U.S. or other countries?’” Schmeler noted.

Such comparisons could also be made of funding: “What we’re also doing now is looking at the policy languages of different payor sources, so the VA [Veterans Affairs] vs. Medicaid vs. Medicare vs. some of the managed care plans,” Schmeler said. “And then we also want to delve into places like Australia and New Zealand and Europe to see how they pay for wheelchairs. Are there good things that they do that could be incorporated into the design of a new policy [in the United States]?”

Schmeler said this project is different from some others: “It’s an interesting research project in that normally as a scientist you don’t disclose anything about what you’re doing until it’s done. You don’t want people speculating. We’re taking a different approach with this. We want this to be participatory by all stakeholders throughout the process. We’re really open to this being very participatory.”

Click here to access the survey.

The Research on Healthcare Policy and Disability project was the subject of an October Webinar that featured panelists DiGiovine, Schmeler, Ana Allegretti, Matt Berwick, Rachel Hibbs, and Emma Smith. To see a recording of that Webinar, which offers CEU credit to those who complete the requirements, click here.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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